Devastated family wants owner of other dog to come forward after pet killed in attack at off-leash park

Family says an off-leash dog park for small dogs, or designated hours for small dogs, may help ensure this type of incident doesn't happen again.

The 12-year-old Yorkshire terrier suffered a broken back and numerous other injuries

George Barreras and Alejandra Rivera, who fought back tears, with 13-year-old Sophie in the backyard of Rivera's home on Friday. The heartbroken family is looking for answers after one of their elderly dogs was attacked at the Hampton off-leash area earlier this week. (Don Somers/CBC )

For more than a decade, Alejandra Rivera and her two elderly dogs, Sophie and Chasta, were a tight-knit family — but earlier this week, that family was torn apart.

Rivera and her brother-in-law want to see changes after what she says was an aggressive dog attack at a Saskatoon off-leash area that left Chasta, a 12-year-old Yorkshire terrier and a long-time family pet, dead. 

Rivera says she was at the Hampton off-leash area on Wednesday with her two dogs. She says she was carrying her 13-year-old dog, Sophie, when a large dog ran over and picked up Chasta, shaking the small dog violently and throwing it into the air.

Rivera, originally from Colombia, says she was able to get Chasta away from the attack. She approached the owner about taking responsibility for the aggressive dog — one of three at the park — but he downplayed the situation and left without providing any information, she says.

Chasta was taken to the Western College of Veterinary Medicine Small Animal Clinic, but later died from her injuries, which included a broken back in four places. Rivera says she's trying to find a way to preserve her beloved pup, and is seeking out a taxidermist who works with small canines to take on the commission.

Rivera and her brother-in-law, George Barreras, are asking the owner of the other dog to come forward and take responsibility.

She says she doesn't understand how a fellow dog owner could be so cruel.

Chasta, a 12-year-old Yorkshire terrier pictured here with Sophie, died after being attacked at the Hampton off-leash dog park in Saskatoon on Wednesday, Rivera says. (Submitted by Alejandra Rivera)

"I would say to him, how can he look at his face in the mirror," she said, fighting back tears. "How can he look into his eyes in the mirror knowing that a little tiny dog was happy, and his dog just went and bit him so bad, and he just really didn't care." 

Barreras says the family would also like to see conversations about an off-leash area for small dogs, or small-dog hours at existing areas, in Saskatoon. He worries it may be a child who will be attacked next. 

"This individual has to be stopped," he said. "Because the combination of aggressive dogs and a careless owner always ends in a tragedy." 

Brenda Squair, who was at the Hampton off-leash area with her dog earlier this week, said she was horrified by news of the attack, saying she feels the situation is like a 'hit and run.' (Don Somer/CBC)

Dog owner Brenda Squair, who was at the park with her pup on Friday, was horrified when she heard about the attack,  saying it's like a "hit and run."

"It just makes me sick to my stomach," she said. "It's awful."

Owner should come forward: kennel club president

Barreras said the family is planning to file a report with Saskatoon Animal Control Agency and the Saskatoon Police Service about the incident. While police do not investigate incidents involving one animal attacking another, Barreras says the family feels the other owner tried to intimidate Alejandra with his three animals.

The Saskatoon Animal Control Agency will launch an investigation into the attack once an official report has been received, said a statement from Saskatoon's director of recreation and community development, Andrew Roberts. 

However, Roberts noted dogs at off-leash areas "must remain under the control of their owner." The city's website notes animals should know and obey basic commands before visiting.

Under the City's Dangerous Animals Bylaw, a person who owns an animal that attacks, assaults, wounds, bites or kills, is subject to fines starting between $250 and $750, to a maximum of $10,000.

Roberts says the city has 11 dog parks, which range in size and terrain, and the smaller parks may be better for owners of small or shy dogs. The city's Pet Wellness Guide recommends Caswell Dog Park for smaller dogs.

Small-dog-only parks already exist elsewhere in the province, including Moose Jaw.

Dana Haukaas, the Moose Jaw Humane Society's executive director, said having the small-dog space is important, since some large dogs may be comfortable with other large dogs, but may struggle when it comes to smaller canines.

Haukaas said it may be time to have a conversation about that type of park in Saskatoon. 

"It certainly wouldn't hurt," she said. "There would be less incidents, and even if small-breed dogs don't get along with each other, there's less likelihood of severe damage happening to another dog."

However, she said the most important thing is for owners of all dogs — big or small — to know their pet's limits and behaviours to determine if the animal is safe to take to the off-leash area.

Alejandra Rivera wipes away tears as she mourns her lost dog, Chasta. (Don Somers/CBC)

Susan Mogenson, the president of the Saskatoon Kennel and Obedience Club, encourages the owner of the dog that attacked Chasta to come forward. She says while it's likely the man is embarrassed or even fearful about what might happen, taking responsibility may go a long way.

"They didn't go to the park expecting their dog to kill another dog," she said. "But to own up to the mistake that happened, that's showing you're a better person than the incident." 


  • A previous version of this story stated fines under Saskatoon's Dangerous Animals Bylaw can range from $250 to $750. In fact, the maximum an individual can be fined is $10,000.
    Sep 20, 2020 10:09 AM CT